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I watched as Just John and Nimie made their way in to the City Cemetery. They placed their Elephant Masks on their faces and Just John took Dal's hand.
"It's great that you are joining us," I heard the smile that was surely on his lips.
"I was honored to get the invitation," Dal said, "but why me?"
"Why else, dearest," John patted her shoulder, "You like your eggs and we need a supplier."
"Ah, I see," Dal nodded, "Why is she here?"
"Ah, Nimie is joining because she has been a tremendous help to me!"
"The Elephants go marching and we remember," Nimie said. Her voice sounded far away as if she was being controlled.
"What about Rahia," Dall asked. I blinked in confusion. Why would Dal ask about me?
"In due time. She isn't ready, yet. She is fighting the changes in Midnight Castle," John explained, "Plus, she stole the sacred Elephant!"
"Ah! Let's go," Dal said and the Trio walked off towards the tree.
I watched as they vanished as well. How was this possible? I finally stepped out from behind the Tomb and ran over the rope bridge before it could fade. I touched the old tree but nothing happened. I called the little bit of power I still held as a Protector but that did nothing more than whip my hair into tangles. I sighed and backed away. If only I had had a better vantage point. I sighed and climbed on to the roof of the Warden's Hut. I couldn't see anything special about the tree from here. I grimaced and sat down hard. Would I want to join the Elephant Brotherhood? I didn't really know. If they were behind the horrid things that had happened to the Castle in the last rumble, the answer was no! If they helped people, the answer was yes. I didn't have a clue what they did or what they stood for. I knew Just John wasn't all bad but he wasn't all good either. He hung somewhere in the grey. I couldn't follow them but I could watch them. The stake out hadn't given me many answers but I did know who the invitations belonged to and that was a start. I would somehow have to keep an eye on Nimie and Dal! How I was going to manage this, I didn't know. I couldn't be in two places at once but perhaps I could. I smiled and a plan started to form in my head.
I sent Bolly to watch Dal and Wat to watch Nimie. I figured those were my two best bets. I couldn't stand to let my lucky charm, Brite, out of my sight. They reported in daily for the a week and a half. They were detailed but something felt off. Bolly reported Dal just went round to select places. She cleaned and reported back to one of the inhabitants in the Castle. She also visited several zoom zones and crafted a lot. She seemed determined from what Bolly reported. Perhaps, she had finally gotten tired of just doing rounds to wait for an egg to pop up on her wheel. She was moving along fairly well with her quests in the Castle but nothing was out of the ordinary. Bolly told me that she had camped out near the Mosaic Panel and the Castle Armory several times. She had cursed the Binding Egg endlessly. I thought that being in the Elephant Brotherhood would help move along faster but she seemed to be moving at the normal pace. Well, the new current normal pace for the Castle.
Wat reported that Nimie only came out of her house occasionally. He said she seemed paler and more drawn. She didn't look like the Nimie he had seen before. She would mumble to herself and swat things away that weren't there. Wat's reports left me more and more alarmed as the days turned into a week. Nimie was growing thinner and he couldn't explain why. She didn't go anywhere unusual nor did she seem to have the focus that she used to have. I had to wonder what was causing this change in Nimie.
A new day arrived announcing a tournament and I made it to the first one with ten minutes left. I scored enough to make it in to the top 100 but noticed that Dal and Nimie were both absent from the action! I decided to bide time and hope they would enter the next one. So off I went to waste time. I played Salty, who had started to cheat. I was barely winning there. The Fortune Wheel was being stingy and the Evil Gnome Trio was still giving me Helping Hand. So, I chased flowers while waiting. It is a really good way to waste time!
The tournament hall was packed when I showed up for the next one. I saw most of the usual entries. I waved to a few of my friends that corresponded with me and even a few I knew from the message boards around Midnight Castle. I searched for Dal and Nimie but couldn't find them. The whistle blew and I set off. I waited impatiently as the doors opened to the rooms. I searched and made a right mess of all five rooms. I had to find those tournament tokens. I glared at the time the first run through. I was rusty, I knew it. I was pleased with my second run through that gave me a score a little above 197k. I thought that would work and went back to the main to search once again for Nimie and Dal. I smiled as I saw the leader boards. Yes, I thought 197k would do just fine for now.
I found Dal in the 200 ranks. She was smiling and chatting with a girl next to her but when she saw me, she took off. The girl she was chatting to told me that it was Dal's turn. I nodded and gave her my thanks. I would have to catch her after the tournaments. I passed the time cleaning up scenes and was surprised at the item drops. I was getting Polestars, Murder's Eye and Banner of Loyalties! Well, this is different, I thought to myself with a chuckle. After twenty minutes had passed I made my way back to the tournament hall and my heart sank. I was moving lower and lower in the ranks. I didn't have a choice, I headed back in the rooms. My next score was horrible getting all 10% on the spins. I wanted to hurry and get that orange cat. I only needed two more placements in the top 100. I paid in to play again and managed to get just above 202k. I hoped that would keep in the top 100. I set off once again to find Dal, however, I was informed that she had just entered the rooms. My timing was off today!
I made my way back to where I had left in my rounds of the Castle and counted my lucky stars when I got an Immortal Treasure and a Wreath of Justice. I continued on until I heard the whistle blow once again announcing I could play in the tournament again. I headed towards the tournament hall and patiently waited for the doors to open.
I scanned the leader board and realized once again that I was dropping in rank. I set off but I was doomed to spin three zero's. I shrugged and decided to buy in once again. If I couldn't get a better score this time, I would have to hope for the best. I cleared the rooms and found enough tokens for 4 spins, finally! I spun the dreaded wheel and closed my eyes. This time I did fantastic! It wasn't epic 50% spins but it was good enough to give me a score of 240,150. I was happy with that. I skipped off in search of Dal. I found her near Armours and Banners but she refused to talk. She completely blew me off and when I asked about Nimie, she looked nervous.
"What is going on, Dal." I asked for third time. That's the lucky number right? Wrong! She just looked around and went back to cleaning Armours and Banners. I sighed and knew I wouldn't get anyway. I would have to go find Nimie and see for myself. I left as she cried out in triumph and pulled out a Mask of Virtue. I made my way back to the tournament hall and watched the leader boards for the last two minutes of the tournament. I noticed Dal couldn't quite make it in to the top 100. I didn't feel great about that because I remember the quests she was soon to dive in to. There were so many doubles that I screamed. I hope she would fair better in the next one. I gathered up my 36 diamonds from the mailman and decided to head home. I would make some chicken broth for Nimie. I didn't know if she was sick or what was going on but I felt I should do something for her. She usually never misses a tournament. I waved goodbye to all my friends still milling about the tournament hall and headed home. It had been a good day and all I needed was one more placement in the top 100 for that orange kitty. It had been a decent day in Midnight Castle. The tournaments were back and I got a few needed inventory items while waiting. The only thing missing had been Nimie's smiling face in the tournaments. What was going on with her? Had something happened to her after she joined the Elephant Brotherhood? She had seemed a little off the day I spied on their entry. I had no choice but to find out. She may not be a close friend but I was worried.
The Missing Shadow Thief
I arrived home and started working quickly on the chicken broth. It was late in the night when it was completed but I decided to head over to Nimie's anyway. I let Brite tag along with me as he was worried about me going alone. He thought it could be a trap set by the Elephant Brotherhood. The thought had crossed my mind but if Nimie was sick or worse well, I had to find out! I made my way over to Nimie's house but the house was dark. There wasn't even a whisper of candle glow in any of the windows. I knocked on the door and the door swung open. I glimpsed the living area by moonlight. It had been ransacked. I adjusted the pot in my hands and stepped inside. The stench knocked me over. It smelled of unwashed bodies, sickness and something metallic. I set the pot down quickly and grabbed a handkerchief out of my backpack. I covered my nose and mouth to block out the horrid smell. Brite sneezed and the room lit up like a firework display. I gasped to see the true state of the room. The furniture (what little there was) was broken beyond repair and there were red droplets on the floor and back wall. I backed up a step but narrowed my eyes and continued forward.
"Nimie! Are you here," I called out, sending out a thousand prayers a second. It wasn't looking good. I heard a whimper from the bed chamber and made my way over. I opened the door to find much of the same destruction. There was blood upon the mattress and a large gash with feathers spilling out. I shook my head in disbelief. Was Nimie dead? What had happened in this house? I followed the sounds of the whimpering and found Nimie's Snow Griffin shivering under her bed. He backed up towards the wall when he saw me. I had no choice but to remove the handkerchief. I pulled out a bag of simple food and slowly coaxed the frightened animal from under the bed. I told Brite to run back to our house and find Gryff. I only hoped the two Snow Griffin's could communicate enough to let me know what happened. It didn't take long for my two pets to return. Gryff squawked at the unfamiliar Snow Griffin and soon the two were chattering away.
"They came last night. They were looking for something but Nimie wouldn't tell them what they wanted to know," Gryff explained, "She's gone, Rahia!"
"Gone? As in," I ran my finger across my throat.
"He doesn't know. She's just gone."
"Oh no. Does he know where?"
"No," Gryff said after a few short squawks.
"Tell him he can come home with us until we find Nimie," I said with a sigh, closing my eyes. I didn't want the poor thing to see the dread that I was sure had filled them.
"I already did. He also said her other pets ran away. He doesn't know where they went."
"We'll find them as well. Let's go. I don't think there is anything else we can do here," I glanced around the room. It was a mess and as I had never been to Nimie's house before I didn't know if anything was missing.
I picked up the younger Snow Griffin to lend it some of my warmth. The poor thing curled into a ball and shivered the whole way back to my house. I had no clue where to start searching but I would put a notice of the message boards in Town. Hopefully, someone had seen something odd. I just hope she was all right! I knew I would have to corner Dal again at the next tournament. I didn't know how but I was going to make her talk!
My other pets gathered around the poor Snow Griffin when we arrived home. They each brought him more food and even blankets and toys. I knew all the poor creature wanted was Nimie back. I sighed and sat back in my chair. Had it been the Elephant Brotherhood? Should I search out Just John and ask? I rubbed my eyes, trying to rid myself of the scene I had stumbled upon. No, he couldn't do that! Could he?
The Winning Prize
The day dawned clear and bright. I put Gryff in charge of the young Snow Griffin and headed to the Towns message boards. I left a note explaining what I had seen the night before and asked for any information on Nimie's whereabouts. I then headed over to the Tavern and my dice game with Salty. He rolled me into submission with a 2-1 win. I sighed and knew this was going to be a bad day. I stopped by the airship and loaded it up, picking up my Exclusive food and two Unique Stamps. The Evil Gnome Trio once again handed me Helping Hand and I politely told them where they could stick it. I had time to kill before the afternoon tournament. I had completely missed the morning one. I headed towards the Fortune Wheel and to my surprise found a Squirrel Egg there. I decided to test how truly awful my luck was today and spun. It was to my surprise that I won four eggs! I tried a few more times but only came up with diamonds, wands and balls. It was better than nothing!
I roamed around asking the inhabitants of the Castle when they had last seen Nimie but most said it had been a week or more. Was that true? Could they be in league with whoever took her? Was I becoming paranoid? I was relived when the mailman found me to tell me the tournament would start in an hour. I was determined to get that orange kitty/ tiger pet! I slowly made my way towards the tournament grounds and waited. I didn't see Dal enter even thought I kept a watch on the main doors. I was sure she would show, however. She would want that pet as much as I did! I made small talk with a few of my friends and even traded a few items for things i needed. It was a pleasant way to pass the hour.
It wasn't long before the whistle blew and I set off towards those massive doors. I had already had it set in my mind that I would buy in three times just to get the kitty. The first go through didn't give me much of a fighting chance so I paid in. I watched the tournament holder smile as I handed him the five diamonds. He waved his hand with a flourish and blew the whistle. I once again ran off towards those massive doors. I did much better that time! I thought that score of over 233k would assure me a top 100 spot. I whistled and headed off to find Dal. I couldn't find her anywhere! I searched for 20 minutes and the whistle blew again. I thought about ignoring and glanced at the leader boards. I was dropping in rank so I ran through the massive doors! It was a horrid round with only 5 tournament chips found and a lousy 10%. The tournament holder nudged me when I came out but I refused to budge. I would wait and see! I set off to find Dal again but either she was hiding behind all of the people or she wasn't playing. I frowned and waited for the next blow of the whistle.
It came while I was wandering around the Underground Grotto and ran like the wind back to those massive doors. I finished up with slightly better luck but not to do any good for my score. I looked at the leader board and saw Dal two spots ahead of me with over 235k. So, she was out there somewhere! I ran all over but couldn't find her! I sighed and sat down in the tournament hall. I would wait! I sat there for twenty minutes but I saw no signs of her. The whistle blew and I was off! The round was pretty rubbish and I was giving up hope. I didn't have to beat everyone but I did have to beat Dal. I grimaced when I glanced back at the leader boards. She had jumped to over 275k. I winked at the tournament holder and tossed him five diamonds! I was still within my limit. I ran to the double doors but once again found only 5 tournament chips and a 10%. I came out and paid in again. I was determined to at least beat Dal. I smiled when I found 14 chips and a very nice wheel! I was happy with my new score and danced out of the tournament doors. There was still a little over 45 minutes left and I assured a place in the top 100. I would focus on finding Dal.
I searched high and low. I even made my way in to the Archives in hopes I would spot her down there. She was becoming a good little hider. I finally had to admit defeat when the five minute whistle blew. I would have to corner her at her house later. I headed back to the tournament hall and ran the massive doors one last time. That one gave me 12 chips but a bunch of zero's. I had used all of my luck. The final whistle blew and the mailman came to deliver my diamonds. The tournament holder called me over and handed me a cage. I looked inside to find the orange kitty. I glared at the tournament holder and let the poor animal out.
"Hi, I'm Champ the Champion! I'm a tiger! I can roar! I can fight! I'm the best," Champ boasted about himself.
"Uh-huh," I nodded, "How much food do you eat?"
"Only twenty unique," he grinned.
"I see," I said and picked him up, stuffing him back in his cage. I turned to the tournament holder, "Can i trade this in for something else?"
"No," he yelled and slammed the window down, "All winning prizes are final! He is your problem now."
"Roar! Let me out! You want a piece of me? Are you glaring at me," Champ snarled at me, "Hiss! Roar! Put 'em up! Put 'em up!"
"Great! I think I'll leave you in there," I threatened.
"You think I can't get out of here! I'm the BEST! I'm the greatest! I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!"
"Oh for the love of the rainbow," Brite muttered, "Do we have a muzzle? We CAN muzzle him, right?"
"We don't have a muzzle," I sighed and shrugged, "Worst winning prize, EVER!"
"Amen," Brite agreed.
"I can hear you! Wait until I get out of here! I will have rainbow dragon scale armor! I'll make human hide leather braces! I WILL!"
"Yeah, yeah," I rolled my eyes and headed for home.